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Written by Taylor Hatmaker

FDA warning brings controversial young blood transfusion company to a halt

On Tuesday, the FDA issued a warning to anyone who might be inclined to give their old bones a jolt with fresh blood harvested from the young.

The idea is pretty far from mainstream, even in Silicon Valley, where the ultra-wealthy have a keen interest in the cutting edge of life-extension science. Still, there’s apparently enough buzz around the practice that the FDA is warning consumers of “unscrupulous actors” who tout the benefits of infusing patients with plasma extracted from youthful donors while extracting literal blood money from their clients:

We have significant public health concerns about the promotion and use of plasma for these purposes. There is no proven clinical benefit of infusion of plasma from young donors to cure, mitigate, treat, or prevent these conditions, and there are risks associated with the use of any plasma product.

Today, we’re alerting consumers and health care providers that treatments using plasma from young donors have not gone through the rigorous testing that the FDA normally requires in order to confirm the therapeutic benefit of a product and to ensure its safety. As a result, the reported uses of these products should not be assumed to be safe or effective. We strongly discourage consumers from [pursuing] this therapy outside of clinical trials under appropriate institutional review board and regulatory oversight.

With the new warning, any companies pursuing the controversial and currently not scientifically supported practice are on notice. The best-known company in the field, Ambrosia Medical, reportedly began its own trials for young blood plasma transfusions back in 2017. The new FDA warning took direct aim at the company, which appears to have skirted regulations by leaning on the fact that blood transfusions are FDA-approved, even if the company’s fringe anti-aging applications are not.

On Tuesday, Ambrosia Medical’s sparse website displayed a single message: “In compliance with the FDA announcement issued February 19, 2019, we have ceased patient treatments.” TechCrunch has reached out to the company about its decision to stop operations in light of the FDA’s warning.

On top of the conspicuous absence of properly studied clinical benefits — “no compelling clinical evidence on its efficacy,” as the FDA puts it — fueling yourself up with young blood without government oversight is actually pretty dangerous. The straightforward danger of blood-borne pathogens is compounded by other risks around dosing.

“Plasma is not FDA-recognized or approved to treat conditions such as normal aging or memory loss, or other diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease,” the FDA stated. “Moreover, reports we’re seeing indicate that the dosing of these infusions can involve administration of large volumes of plasma that can be associated with significant risks including infectious, allergic, respiratory and cardiovascular risks, among others.”

Ambrosia Medical appears to have wrapped up its initial study, “Young Donor Plasma Transfusion and Age-Related Biomarkers,” in January 2018 and stayed pretty quiet since. The study is registered with clinicaltrials.gov, though the research still appears to have operated beyond the bounds of the government’s institutional review and oversight process. In its warning, the FDA didn’t name Ambrosia Medical, instead referring to any entities in the young blood business as “companies that abuse the trust of patients and endanger their health.”

“As a general matter, we will consider taking regulatory and enforcement actions against companies that abuse the trust of patients and endanger their health with uncontrolled manufacturing conditions or by promoting so-called ‘treatments’ that haven’t been proven safe or effective for any use,” the FDA stated.

Netflix office goes on lockdown over report of a potential shooter, suspect now in custody

Alarming reports popped up on Twitter late Thursday of incident involving an armed individual at Netflix’s Hollywood office on Sunset Blvd. TechCrunch has confirmed with the Los Angeles Police Department that a call reporting a man with a gun first came in at 3:53 Pacific Time. According to the LAPD, there were no shots fired, no reports of injuries and the suspect in question has been taken into custody. Though some reports on social media appeared to contradict those details, the LAPD again confirmed that there is only one suspect and that suspect is in custody. As of 5:12 Pacific Time, Netflix employees reported being allowed to leave on foot though some areas remained closed as a precaution.

Netflix first moved into the historic Hollywood Sunset Bronson studio site in 2015 and expanded its lease on the space in 2017. The company shares the location with local news outlet KTLA.

This story is developing.

Citizen expands its crime-tracking alert app to Baltimore

Depending on who you ask, Citizen is either a useful urban safety tool or a menacing glimpse into a self-surveilled police state, but either way, the app is coming to Baltimore. Citizen, formerly known as Vigilante, is a crime tracking app that offers geo-targeted alerts that notify users of dangers lurking nearby, from carjackings to kidnappings and every mundane horror in between.

Citizen launched first in New York City before expanding to San Francisco in 2017. The app pulls in public safety data, sifts it through its own editorial team and dispenses it out to relevant users based on their location. Citizen’s founder and CEO Andrew Frame told the Baltimore Sun that Citizen is expanding to the city both because its team has connections there and due to Baltimore’s reputation for crime. The city’s reputation for a deeply corrupt police department with sometimes fatal results was not part of that calculation.

“Given the escalating crime and lack of public safety resources, Baltimore was a great place to try something new,” Frame said of the new market. “Citizen can now help Baltimore residents in the way it has helped New York and San Francisco, with real-time notifications that let a user escape a burning building or rescue a four-year old from an abductor. Citizen, with its real-time information, may be just what Baltimore needs.”

Considering the popularity of services like Nextdoor, it’s hard to argue that people don’t want to know what’s going on around them just for the sake of knowing. The problem is that there’s no evidence this state of hyper-awareness does any quantifiable good and at least some evidence that it can actually put people, specifically people of color, at more risk due to implicit bias and racial profiling. For better or worse, that fact paired with the collective lack of concern over the demonstrable ills of asking untrained individuals to assess and report threats explains Citizen’s apparent popularity. “How to Record Great Live Video on Citizen: By broadcasting live, you can help Protect the World,” the company implored in a blog post for users last October.

Still, given that its first iteration got banned from the app store for actually encouraging regular people to intervene in crimes in progress, the company could be said to have matured, if by no choice of its own.

As we wrote when Citizen expanded to San Francisco, “People who get off on local crime updates on the evening news with probably love Citizen. So will catastrophists, or anyone else rapt by what feels like a hastening pace of global disaster. Nextdoor-lovers who thrive in a state of hypervigilance will feel right at home.”

Update: In a conversation with TechCrunch, a spokesperson for the company noted that while users can add information to and interact with vetted reports already in the app’s systems, they cannot create those reports themselves through Citizen without going through formal law enforcement or emergency channels.

The net effect of all of that crime-watching is basically impossible to measure, but Citizen nonetheless revels in tackily taking credit for anecdotal success stories that mean little without proper outcome tracking or data sets to back them up. The whole thing is sort of the inverse of something like RideAlong, a software suite designed to help law enforcement and emergency workers provide more compassionate, longitudinal care for the individuals being policed instead of showcasing those incidents as faceless red crime dots on a map.

Unfortunately, contextual data isn’t quite as sexy as realtime threats unfolding all around us in every direction. People want the red dots. And investors are happy to throw money at the red dots. So, for Baltimore, red dots it is.